When they hosted Oakland Wednesday night at the Kohl Center, the Wisconsin Badgers faced a formidable opponent down low for the first time in the 2009-10 season.
After beating up on a smaller, undermanned Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne squad, forwards Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil finally had to pick on someone their own size, Golden Grizzlies center Keith Benson and forward Will Hudson.
Benson, a 6-foot-11-inch, 221-pound redshirt junior, and Hudson, a 6-foot-9-inch, 233-pound junior, still did not match up the UW duo.
“Benson never got a look; he had to fight and scratch for everything he got in there,” Oakland head coach Greg Kampe said. “Hudson had the ball in there four or five times when it looked like, in our league, he would get a basket, but he didn’t get it here.”
Benson and Hudson finished with 12 and two points, respectively, while grabbing nine and three rebounds in the game in 28 minutes apiece.
The biggest problem for Benson, though, may have been staying on the court, rather than the play of Wisconsin’s forwards.
Oakland’s big man was called for his third foul of the game with 6:37 remaining when UW guard Trevon Hughes drove to the basket and drew the call. According to Hughes, it had less to do with Benson’s situation and a lot more to do with what they saw on film.
“I didn’t know he had two fouls on him … it was just pump faking,” Hughes said. “From the scouting report we know that he likes to leave his feet and block shots. It was just a smart play at the time.”
With Benson out, Wisconsin managed to extend its lead from nine points at the time to 16 points just two minutes later with a 7-0 run before the Golden Grizzlies cut it back to 11 at the half.
Despite being limited to only 28 minutes in the game, Benson impressed UW head coach Bo Ryan, who was happy to get the Detroit native on the bench whenever possible.
“He’s a game changer, he’s a very good player,” Ryan said. “He’s good, he knows how to post, he’s got a good touch (and) getting him in foul trouble was key. … You maybe can’t pinpoint just one thing, but that was a factor.”
Wisconsin’s bigs, on the other hand, had impressive games, even when going against the biggest team they’ve faced this season.
Leuer, a 6-foot-10-inch forward, finished third on the team with 12 points Wednesday night on 5-of-11 shooting from the floor. He also grabbed three rebounds and three steals while blocking a pair of shots.
Nankivil, a 6-foot-8 forward, tallied 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting and 1-of-4 from beyond the arc to finish second on the team. The Madison native also grabbed a game-high nine rebounds, two steals and four blocks.
According to Ryan, Nankivil is trying to figure out where he fits in the Badgers’ game plan.
“He’s trying to keep finding his niche,” Ryan said. “Obviously he’s better this year than he was last year. He’s more active, and we need him to be because Benson and Hudson as a combo — those guys in the Summit League better get ready for those two — I thought our bigs did a very good job on them.”
For Nankivil, some of the success may have been due to familiarity with the opponent.
Hudson, like Nankivil, is a Madison native; the two faced each other at least twice a year during their high school years when Nankivil attended Madison Memorial and Hudson was at Middleton High School.
“I just told him good luck on the rest of the season,” Nankivil said. “It’s good to see people like that, especially being from Madison and seeing people from Madison do well in basketball. … We don’t talk a ton, but it’s nice to play him and see somebody that you know and play against them.”
Fortunately for Hudson, he isn’t likely to face too many teams the rest of the season with a pair of forwards over 6 feet 8 inches.
Bruesewitz sees first game action
Near the end of Wednesday’s game, freshman forward Mike Bruesewitz answered the question everyone was wondering about: Will he redshirt?
The answer was ‘no,’ as the native of St. Paul, Minn., came off the bench and played two minutes in Wisconsin’s 58-42 victory over the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. There was not much said about the decision, though.
“He had said something to coach Gard, [who] said it to me, and not a lot of conversation,” Ryan said of Bruesewitz. “But there’s no way in the world I was taking him [to Maui] without at least getting on the floor and seeing what it’s like to exchange the towel, report to the table, get in the game.
“With three days in a row, you never know how many guys you’re going to use.”